Staying in Is a Lot Easier When Spain Does the Catering

The New York Times


September 1, 2020

Foodies delight in Spanish wines and delicacies as online orders skyrocket.
New York Times Staff

When panicked shoppers began emptying supermarket shelves this spring, Brandon Schantz, a lawyer in Orange County, Calif., bypassed at least some of the lines. Instead, he went to The Spanish Table website and ordered a case of wine — whites mainly from Spain’s Catalonia and Basque regions, reds from Rioja and Castile and León — and a stockpile of conservas, artisanal canned seafood predominantly sourced from the country’s northern coast.

“Spain is producing some of the most exciting and vibrant wines these days,” says Mr. Schantz, who first became enamored by Spanish culture and cuisine while studying in Madrid during the mid-aughts. And as for those flavorful tins of fish, he says, “People flock to bars around Spain that make tapas or pintxos — small plates — solely based on the seafood that they’re taking out of these cans.”

According to Tanya Booth, who owns the Bay Area-based Spanish Table (there are three brick-and-mortar locations) with her husband, Andy, online sales at the beginning of the pandemic were three times what they usually see in their busiest month, December. What have been top sellers? Richly marbled jamón Ibérico cured from prized black-hoofed pigs that graze on acorns in the vast Dehesa agroforests. A broad range of intensely flavored extra virgin olive oils, such as the phenol-rich Picual and the delicate Arbequina varietals. Protected Designation of Origin Sherry vinegars. Manchego cheeses. Cookbooks. “And we sold a lot of canned seafood, stacks and stacks of it,” she says.

Other online purveyors of gourmet Spanish goods, in the United States and Canada, saw similar surges. In Williamsburg, Va., La Tienda, the oldest and largest of the e-commerce retailers, watched its numbers more than triple, with new customers making up 40 percent of sales.

The retailers curate their selections by seeking out artisanal Spanish producers making the most of the natural environs. “There is this little valley called Calasparra where the rice grows very slowly because the water is coming down from the mountain and it’s very cold. It absorbs several times more liquid than normal rice. So when you make paella, it’s got that much more flavor,” says La Tienda C.E.O. Tim Harris, whose family lived in Spain in the 1970s before starting the company in 1996. “The saffron we sell, it’s picked by one family from this one area of La Mancha, and all the cousins come in to harvest the crocus flowers that make saffron. We buy almost all of their production.”

“What I love about foods from Spain is they basically take the highest-quality raw materials — the best meat, the best fish — and it’s prepared very simply,” says David Nowland, who started ordering from La Tienda when it first opened, before moving to Madrid and other parts of the world. But when he returned to the United States, La Tienda was his go-to source for products he missed from Spain, including piquillo peppers, jamón Ibérico and Serrano, and Marcona almonds. “You can find the [almonds] that are made in California,” says Mr. Nowland, who now lives in Houston, “but they don’t ever taste the same.”

Now that many restaurants have reopened for takeout and outdoor dining, fans of food and wine from Spain can seek out the flavors in more elevated experiences. In August, Despaña Fine Foods & Tapas Café and Mercado Little Spain’s Spanish Diner and El Chiringuito reopened, providing open-air seating for customers craving classic dishes like tortilla de patatas and bocadillos paired with a glass of refreshing fino sherry, effervescent cava or a chilled Albariño. But Mr. Harris isn’t worried about his business. “There’s been a paradigm shift, and a lot of people who had never ordered food online before had a good experience,” he says. “Those folks are not going to go away.”

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